The per capita consumption of beans in Mexico decreased in recent decades because it is stigmatized as a protein diet of the poor and people prefer to consume more processed foods, warn UNAM specialists Amanda Gálvez Mariscal and Elvira Sandoval Bosch. While in 1980 the intake per person per year was 16 kilograms, by 2021 it was nine, according to the Agricultural Panorama 2021 of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
We look down on beans as 'poor people's food' and we are making a very serious mistake; they are a source of protein. Eating them, like tortillas, means eating protein from legumes that have no cholesterol, are low in fat and, when combined with cereal protein, have practically the same nutritional value as meat.
Elvira Sandoval Bosch, coordinator of the Bachelor's Degree in Human Nutrition Science at the School of Medicine, agrees with her and explains that together with lentils, beans, and chickpeas, they are stigmatized because they are economic products. "We think that if we are not poor, we have no reason to be consuming these foods, which is very false."
Legumes are key to a rich, varied, and nutritious diet and beans are the main representative of this type of food in the diet of Mexicans. If we combine cereals with legumes, we have a protein of as good a quality as that of animal origin. The best thing is that you will save on saturated fats.
Iron, fiber, antioxidants in beans
On the occasion of World Legume Day, which is commemorated on February 10, Gálvez Mariscal, Ph.D. in Biotechnology, explains that these foods are a source of iron. They provide fiber and help to have low cholesterol. Fiber gives us the feeling of satiety, that is why it is said that beans are the 'fillers'. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the production of chickpeas, beans, and lentils dates back to seven or eight thousand years before Christ.
They are excellent foods, the tradition indicates it to us: there are the tlacoyos, which are a combination of corn with beans or of these with the tacos; the Moors with Christians, there is the solution, as well as in the mixture of cereals and leguminous: rice with beans or lentils; chickpeas or humus with Arab bread. The tradition of consuming them is wise, not in vain they have so many centuries in gastronomy and it is important to recover it.
Those who choose to be vegans or vegetarians should consume cereals and legumes to have good nutrition because it is not enough to eat these or carbohydrates.
Studies show that the colors that beans have in their shells are antioxidant compounds. They contain digestion-resistant starch -which passes intact to the lower part of the intestine, where the intestinal microbiota that uses it is located-, which is fundamental for health. These foods are not responsible for the high rates of obesity in the country, but the change in our diet, replacing them with processed foods, generally high in carbohydrates, fats, and salt.
This has generated that Mexico is the number one nation with obese children, who in the long term could be diabetic and/or have serious cholesterol and health problems. "That is why we also have an 11 percent mortality rate in cases of COVID-19 since obesity implies that the body is inflamed and this is added to the inflammation caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus," warns the academic.
Benefits for the planet
The cultivation of legumes is linked to various Sustainable Development Goals such as "Zero Hunger", "Health and Wellness", "Responsible Production and Consumption", as well as "Climate Action", agree the university experts. This practice contributes to responsible production and sustainable agriculture, as they have mycorrhizae and rhizobia, which are fungi and bacteria that form nodules on the roots, which absorb nitrogen from the air and help soil fertility. They can be cultivated in the milpa; that is, in the same space there can be beans, vegetables, and edible plants such as quelites.
Legumes relate to the objective of "Health and Wellness", in the sense that there is only one health that includes that of people, animals, and the planet.
Elvira Sandoval Bosch, an academic from the Department of Public Health at the School of Medicine, says that the various seeds help to reduce hunger and once they are harvested and dried they can last a long time. They also help reduce food waste because almost the entire plant is eaten from legumes. Their cultivation, he adds, does not generate the carbon footprint that animal food production does.
No excuses for eating beans
Sandoval Bosch explains that some people do not eat beans or other seeds because they cause abdominal distension, which can be avoided by soaking them a day before cooking, cooking them with spices such as cumin, or herbs such as fennel or coriander. If you are very sensitive to this food, you can cook them twice, each time with new water.
"Let them try them in different ways: if they don't like pinto beans, let them opt for black beans; if they don't like beans, let them choose lentils, they are interchangeable; if they prefer chickpeas in consommé, go ahead. The important thing is to find a way to introduce these foods into the daily diet to have more fun and varied diet," she concludes.